Friday, March 03, 2006

On "gray areas" and learning life's lessons...

It was another one of those ah-ha moments as a mom. That's what I had this week. All week long, I had been wracking my brain, trying to figure out a problem with my six-year-old. You see, Wildcat is a great kid. He loves to have fun (as you saw from our previous post of silly pictures) and he has a lot of friends. But, this week, after watching him come off the school bus every day with a dejected look and a story of someone who had done something to him, I realized something. My Wildcat was suffering from the "victim" syndrome. He went through his days expecting to be someone's victim, rather than enjoying himself.

How did he get this way? What made him have this outlook in life? Well, after a lot of thought, the answer came to me quite clearly. Just like the old anti-drug commercial, I could answer this one with, "He learned it by watching me."

I do not walk through every day upset over something someone has done to me, but I do have my days, and I do have my share of whining moments where I feel no one really understands me. Yes, I can play the martyr quite well. And, it is not something I really like in myself. It is something I have tried to change.

My son, in particular, has a lot of problems with a classmate who happens to also live on our street. The boy, who I previously named "Faucet Boy" on this blog, is either hot or cold with my son. He is either trying to get in good graces and win him back as a friend--calling to ask if they can play each day, or he's quietly muttering hateful things in his ear. "You're a loser" and "I hate you" are among the arsenal of verbal barbs he throws at my son, just when Wildcat has opened up and accepted him back again.

This drives me absolutely crazy. I have tried teaching my son to love and forgive people when they are ugly. That is a very important message I want him to have in his life. But, at what point do you teach them about that gray area between forgiving another person and avoiding becoming someone else's punching bag for life?

A six-year-old does not yet understand gray areas. So, Wildcat forgives this boy, again and again. And, he gets hurt repeatedly because of this. Because the minute Wildcat forgives, Faucet Boy senses his heart opening and that is when he levels the blows against him. Witnessing this repeated behavior, as a parent, is very painful and difficult. In these moments, you want to tell your child to forget all of those lessons of love and forgiveness, and just go beat the ever-loving crap out of the little pipsqueak!

I am sure this is how my own mother felt for so many years. You see, I had a "Faucet Girl" in my life as well. My elementary and middle school years with this girl were spend either in moments of happiness as "best friends forever," or in moments of tears, wondering how my best friend could be so mean to me. Ann, I'll call her, was one of those two extremes. When my faucet girl was on "hot" she was a delight to know. I had more fun with her than anyone really. But, when she was on "cold," she could make my life miserable. She loved to gang up on me, ridicule and embarass me, and tell any secrets I'd shared with her. I never understood it. I knew things about her that she would never want others to know, and I never uttered a word.

Looking back as an adult, I wish I would have told someone. I did, in fact, witness physical abuse going on in her house by her father. But, when you are young, you don't know about gray areas and when someone crosses them. You don't know that when you see someone else's father grab them by their hair for smarting off and drag them into another room, that were, in fact, getting beaten. You don't realize that all of those times your friend talks of running away for another life, she has scary reason to run. And, knowing this now, I understand a lot more why Ann had her mean-streak.

But, when you are growing up, all you know is that last weekend Ann was your best friend. Last weekend you spent the night with her out on her farm. You both played inventors, coming up with all sorts of amazing things, and then fell asleep that night outside in your sleeping bags on her trampoline, listening to the owls sing and watching the stars twinkling above you. So, why this week was she sitting behind you, mocking and imitating you so others would laugh? Why would she treat you so hatefully, just because you beat her on a chair test in band and finally made it to the first row of flutes--something you never thought you could do. A real friend would be happy for you, right?

My mother hated Ann. Yet, she still let me play with her. I remember how mad she would get when I'd be hurt again by Ann. I got to where I didn't even tell her about it. It went on so often over my early school years that I know my Mom must have felt just as helpless as I do today with my son. She must have wanted me to stand up for myself and walk away, never allowing this person to be my friend again, just as I wish my son would do to his hateful friend.

These are the hard moments as a parent, when you watch a child in pain and yet feel helpless to stop it. You must watch your child repeatedly forgive and get hurt again, until they finally learn their life lessons. And, that's exactly what my mother had to do with me.

It wasn't until high school that Faucet Girl Ann got her come-uppance. By our senior year, her wild partying ways had helped earn her a really awful reputation. No one wanted to "play" with her anymore. We ran in completely different circles during our high school years. Early on, she had quit sports and the band to chase after an older boyfriend with a penchant for smoking pot, while I'd stayed in both and found my own friends and boyfriends along the way. By our senior year, she had broken up with the pothead. She'd had some sort of epiphany, I suspect, because she rejoined the band and was suddenly around, trying to make friends again. And, inch-by-inch, I started to let her in again.

We shared a science class our senior year that was filled with all of my favorite friends. Ann was the outsider in this group, having been dropped by these people long ago. But, slowly, with my help, she started to be accepted back into the group. And, then it happened. Ann's faucet switched to cold one day and she took an key moment to make fun of me and get a laugh at my expense. As I sat there, blood boiling not at what she'd said but at the years I'd withstood her behavior, I knew there was but one thing I could do. I reached deep into my memory and I came up with one major insecurity that Ann had shared with me all those years ago, about her face. Something she'd told me in confidence, in tears even, when we were in middle school. And, I triumphantly blurted it out. "Oh yeah, Ann? Well, at least I don't have a HORSE MOUTH!"

The kids in the room giggled at the silly comeback. It made no sense to them, I know. It sounded so, so, elementary school, really. But, I watched as the color washed right out of Ann's mean face. And when our eyes met, they exchanged an understanding. Ann knew that she would never ever be able to mistreat me again. After that day, she went on her merry way and never messed with me again. We even ended up going to the same college and remained distantly friendly, but never associated much with one another again.

And, as I sit here, I know that my messages of "Live your life to be happy, and forget the rest" to my son will eventually sink in. Eventually, he will have his moment of clarity, as I did with hateful Ann. I just hope he doesn't have to wait as many years as I did to finally figure it out!


Blogger Chrixean said...

I think we've all experience meeting a "faucet girl" once in our life, whether it be in our school days or adult years. It was tough also for me to deal with these experiences because being an only child, I had to keep a lot of these feelings to myself. My son, who is also 6 years old, is now facing kids at school who have a tendency to overpower him because he is also the type who easily forgives and tries not to fight back. My hubby tries to teach him to identify where his limits are by pointing out instances where if the other kid begins to insult my son or spew unacceptable verbals at him, he should know how to put the kid in his place without really "fighting back". Much as we would like to be there when these occasions happen, we could just pray that we've taught our children well and be confident that they can handle the situation better than we did growing up :-)

10:26 AM, March 03, 2006  
Blogger "D" said...

and we thought potty training was tough huh? I'm glad you can really understand your son though, and empathize with where he is at...

10:53 AM, March 03, 2006  
Blogger Tamara said...

Man, you are paving the way. I can't comprehend Eli being old enough to *tell* me all about his friends much les go through this...

12:14 PM, March 03, 2006  
Anonymous Maddy said...

I wanted to stand up and cheer for you. We all know that look in someone's eyes when we have hit the painfull button. It sometimes doesn't feel good to have pushed that button but sometimes it feel fantastic.
I am sure your son will get over his mean friend or learn that some people are worth your time and some are not.
Your story has made my day, once again bravo!

4:43 PM, March 03, 2006  
Blogger Masked Mom said...

This thing of trying to balance protecting them with coddling them is (as recent posts at my place show) never-ending and, I think, one of the hardest things about Mommyhood. What sucks more than watching them get sucked into the same kinds of situations we were in? For the record,I think you're totally on the right track.

5:37 PM, March 03, 2006  
Anonymous Shannon (sentimental) said...

You know that is a tough lesson to learn no matter how it comes but that is the thing. It always comes! Slowly but surely he will realize it. Great for you for putting it back in Ann's Face!

8:02 PM, March 03, 2006  
Blogger Viamarie said...

I know how you feel. I went through the same experience as a child but it was not only the child that I had to deal with but also the mother. After several encounters, I decided to face them both.
From then on, I learned when to ignore and when to confront the problem head on.

Cheers! Happy weekend.

8:40 AM, March 04, 2006  
Blogger Alison said...

I can sure relate to this. My 5-year-old is having to deal with this stuff for the first time with some neighbor boys, & he is not prepared for it at all. I don't think anyone had ever said mean things to him before (except his brother...), and he freaked out. I wanted him to just drop these boys & stop trying to play with them, because I had so many flashbacks to kids in my own childhood who were bad news, & I knew he was setting himself up for heartache by continuing to play with them. Of course, he's continuing to play with them, but now I fear he's even becoming more like them. Unlike me, who just let kids run over me, he lashes out in unhelpful ways (this week he pinched one of them!). This is so difficult to deal with as a mother, especially when I never figured out how to deal with it as a child & haven't got a lot more insight now! (These kinds of kids still intimidate me!)

My 7-year-old seems more immune, because he's so oblivious to social things most of the time that he doesn't always realize when people are being mean, and he doesn't even care that much since he'd rather just do his own thing. But that is hard for me to see, too! And I worry he'll become a target as he gets older.

11:33 AM, March 04, 2006  
Blogger Barbara said...

If faucet boy has real problems, I doubt another 6 year old boy is equipped to deal with them. I would limit the contact with faucet boy and promote contact with healthier children. Don't let a bad apple spoil his childhood. Accentuate the positive, set up play dates with with the other wonderful children in your social network. Teach him to be kind to Faucet boy, but he doesn't owe him friendship. This will help Faucet boy also, who will realize that hurting friends has consequesnces, and his next attempt at friendship (with someone else) may be more fruitful for him.

I hope you can find your way through this problem, I know there are many other avenues to explore to bring about a good resolution. Good luck.

10:27 AM, March 05, 2006  
Blogger Carol said...

This is such a difficult topic...I don't have any answers when it comes to my own kids (I usually know exactly what to say at work), but I agree...teach him to care about others...that can't be wrong.

3:35 PM, March 05, 2006  
Blogger Crazy MomCat said...

Thanks for all the great advice on this, everyone. And, Carol, I'd love to hear what you say at work as a counselor in these situations. But, yeah, caring for others and being kind is so important to me, so I hope I can continue to instill that in him.

5:33 PM, March 05, 2006  
Blogger LadyBugCrossing said...

I'm going to let #1 Son read this post. He has a big heart which he wears on his sleeve. He just wants some friends and to be accepted... I just wish he would pick some other kids than the ones he gravitates towards... Thanks for sharing this with us


6:35 PM, March 06, 2006  
Blogger Crazy MomCat said...

Glad to know someone else understands having a sensitive child, Ladybug. I hope your son has better luck with things as well!

6:59 PM, March 06, 2006  

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